Thank you for the opportunity to be here today to share CFIB's perspective on the temporary foreign worker program, or TFWP.
You should have a slide presentation that I'd like to walk you through over the next few minutes.
The CFIB is a not-for profit, non-partisan organization representing more than a 109,000 small and medium-sized businesses across Canada. Our members represent all sectors of the economy, and they're found in every region of the country.
First I want to say thank you for undertaking this review. The many changes that were made to basically gut the TFW program in the last couple of years made a difficult situation even worse for many smaller companies, some of which have struggled ever since to actually keep their business afloat.
To be fair, though, one of the allegations in particular made against the TFW program was true in that some firms were using the TFW program to fill permanent and not necessarily temporary positions simply because they could not find any Canadians to fill those jobs. So we do recommend first and foremost that a pathway to permanent residency be created for temporary foreign workers, including those in lower skilled occupations, but I'll get to more on that in a minute.
First, though, I want to spend a couple of minutes correcting a few misconceptions about how the temporary foreign worker program was used by small and medium-sized companies in the last few years. As you may be aware, CFIB takes its direction from our members through a variety of surveys, and I'll be sharing the results of a survey on the temporary foreign worker program. You will be getting a copy of the report on which that survey was based, which will have a lot more details than I can be able to share with you today.
Some have actually disputed whether there is a labour skills shortage in Canada. I can tell you that it's certainly not the view of Canada's entrepreneurs. They say there is a seriously growing shortage of qualified people in many sectors and certain regions of the country. Chart 3, which hopefully you have in front of you now, is from our most recent business barometer. It shows that between one-third and one-half of our small business members are facing shortage of qualified labour issues right now, whether it is skilled or unskilled labour.
Some also claim that businesses are not doing enough to attract and retain Canadian workers. In fact, the majority are doing a wide range of things because they would much prefer to hire Canadians than go through the fairly lengthy and complicated process of hiring a temporary foreign worker.
As you can see on slide 4, almost three-quarters told us that they had expanded their recruitment efforts beyond their traditional region, and almost as many reported having increased wages. Almost a half mentioned adding flexibility in work hours, or had introduced or expanded employee benefits. Clearly, the smaller businesses are trying to do everything they can to attract Canadians first.
There also seems to be a bit of a misconception over how widely used the TFW program was among small businesses; however, a closer look reveals that the vast majority have not even considered using the temporary foreign worker program, as you can see on slide 5. In fact, only 14% said they have attempted to access the program, and only 10% were actually successful in hiring a temporary foreign worker. While few have used it, for those who do, it's extremely important to their business.
On slide 6, you can see that more than a half said that hiring a temporary foreign worker helped fill the specific skilled or unskilled labour need. Even more importantly, I think, is that almost six in 10 told us that having access to a temporary foreign worker had allowed them to keep their business open and keep Canadian workers in those businesses employed. Almost a half also said it allowed them to actually expand their business.
On slide 7, you can actually read about some of the ways our members themselves say that having a temporary foreign worker has actually benefited their business and their employees. I will leave that to you to read on your own time.
However, while few use it, and those who do see great benefits in it, it's very difficult to access, as you can see on slide 8. When users of the program were asked about its various aspects, the majority rated timeliness of the process and the amount of paperwork needed as poor. Almost a half rated the promptness of the government service as poor.
These three areas—timeliness, paperwork, and promptness of government service—are really where the government can start to look for administrative process improvements as well.
Based on our members' feedback, we propose a number of measures on slide 9 that address some of the more prevalent concerns with the program.
Canada brings in thousands of lower skilled temporary foreign workers each year with no pathway to permanent residency while offering permanent residence to thousands more highly skilled and highly educated workers who have really no guarantee of a job in Canada. CFIB proposes that the immigration system ensure that temporary foreign workers, including those in entry-level positions, have a pathway to become permanent residents, for instance, by expanding the Canadian experience class and/or giving an expanded number of temporary foreign workers access to provincial nominee programs.
We would also, though, suggest potentially replacing the temporary foreign worker program, except in those certain circumstances where truly temporary workers are needed, with what we would called an introduction to Canada visa. Rather than a temporary program, this would be a first step to permanent residency. The foreign worker would agree to work for two years with an employer while integrating into Canadian society. With appropriate limitations, this new facet of the permanent immigration system would create more stability within the workforce for employers and greater opportunities for those eager to come Canada. More details on how this might work are in the report you have in front of you.
We're also supportive of the express entry system; that allows employers to have a greater role in selecting immigrants, but this does not help employers looking for potentially lower skilled employees. CFIB suggests that employers with staffing needs at all skill levels should be permitted to participate in selecting workers through the express entry system.
To help address some of the concerns that TFWs may be more vulnerable in some circumstances than Canadian workers, we also propose a bill of rights for temporary foreign workers that outlines the many responsibilities employers have to agree to when they're using the program. Employers would be responsible to provide a signed document to both the worker and the government, and the government would spot-check to ensure proper compliance. We also have more details in the report about how that would look.
Our members do not condone the misuse or abuse of the program or of foreign workers under any circumstances, so we are overwhelmingly supportive of strong sanctions against those who do. There are already many rules in place, however, and we'd rather not create even more paperwork, and instead would like to see enhanced enforcement of the rules as a better way forward.
With the most recent changes, though, fees have increased dramatically as well. The fee for application is now $1,000, plus an additional $100 privilege fee. These application fees are non-refundable as well. At a minimum, any employer who has their TFW application rejected should have all or part of their $1,000 application fee refunded.
Finally, I just want to mention that governments do need to review all training programs to ensure they encourage rather than inhibit hiring at all skill levels, and also to ensure that the training programs are better tailored to the needs of small and medium-sized businesses.
Thank you for your time. I'm happy to answer any questions.